Insights - May 25, 2018

African solutions tackling the continent’s environmental challenges

african environmental solutions

Written by Tristan Lebleu

A fast growing entrepreneurial ecosystem is tackling the continent’s numerous challenges by leveraging tech and digital. According to a study by Partech Venture - which announced the launch of a 120M$ fund dedicated to African startups in January - 124 startups raised 560M$ in 2017, an astonishing 53% YoY raise.

Unsurprisingly, VivaTech - France’s major startup and technology event, which started on May 24th - decided to make Africa its primary focus this year with Afric@tech, a dedicated space for African startups, incubators, accelerators, and key speakers from Africa. Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda and of the African Union, was invited to attend Emmanuel Macron’s inaugural speech. If you’re attending “The world’s rendez-vous for startups & leaders”, make sure you don’t miss the Afric@Tech zone (and, we hope you didn't miss Bertrand Piccard’s speech at 11:15am on May 25th!). 3 Members of the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions are at Vivatech: Lonoci, Coliba, and Sunubus!

Speaking of Members, some of them are building solutions to some of the continent’s most pressing issues. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of our African cleantech innovators...

Access to electricity: Africa’s top priority

Today, a major challenge to the development of the African economy is access to electricity. According to the International Energy Agency, 625 million Africans have no electric power. This is particularly true in rural areas. Powercorner has developed a containerized generation and storage unit for off-grid populations. Their first installation, in Ketumbeine, Tanzania, consists of photovoltaic (PV) panels with capacity of 16 kWp, a 45 KWh lithium-ion battery bank and a back-up genset. 61 houses from this village located 50 km away from the grid, benefit from 24/7 electricity and fresh drinks. Households and businesses who wish to be connected pay a nominal connection fee and are able to benefit from using electricity through a pay as you go technology thanks to smart meters and a Micro Utility Platform (MUP). The MUP manages notifications, mobile payments, information tracking and all the digital aspects of the company. This is a very important aspect of the solution, considering that mobile banking has become the norm in Africa, and that 660 million Africans should have a smartphone by 2020.

PowerCorner is a perfect example of a solution that protects the environment in a profitable way. Thus, they were among the first innovations to receive our recently launched Solar Impulse Efficient Solution Label, granted to solutions that meet high standards of both profitability and sustainability.

Reliable access to electricity is a top priority for Africa. As McKinsey states in its latest Powering Africa report “There is a direct correlation between economic growth and electricity supply. If sub-Saharan Africa is to fulfill its promise, it needs power—and lots of it.”

Smart solutions to manage African waste production

In the streets of Nairobi, an entire community works day and night to handle the massive waste production of Kenya’s capital city: the waste pickers. “Mr. Green Africa sees the informal waste pickers as invisible heroes who have languished at the bottom of the waste hierarchy for too long”. In September 2014, Keiran Smith decided to bring their dignity back to these workers by building Mr Green Africa. “What we do is trading recyclables, while achieving a social and environmental impact”. Waste pickers sell their valuable waste directly to Mr Green Africa through their profile on the platform. Mr. Green Africa then processes the recyclable material into valuable raw material and feeds it back into plastic manufacturers’ supply chain. They have digitalized the entire process through a mobile application and a back-end solution, making it easier to measure their social, economical, and environmental impact. Mr Green Africa has managed to take plastics out from the streets into the recycling process, while improving waste pickers’ lives and providing cheap waste to manufacturers.

Quenching Africa’s thirst

On February 13th, 2018, South-African authorities declared a state of natural catastrophe due its water shortage. And even though Cape Town has managed to push back Day Zero - the day the city will run out of water - water scarcity is still a big problem for most of the African continent. An estimated 319 million people do not have access to clean and safe water. Anastasia Kaschenko, Beth Koigi and Clare Sewell have built a prototype to help people in off-grid communities in Kenya harvest water from air. Majik Water, still at the prototype stage, converts humidity in the air into water using solar panels. It uses materials which capture the humidity just like a sponge, and that release water vapor when heated. Finally, the vapor is condensed. This efficient solution can get water even in low humidity areas, and was included in Financial Times' list of world-changing ideas.

Of course, these are only just a few solutions, to just some of the many environmental challenges that Africa faces. But the point is that African innovators are now coming together to overcome these issues.

Written by Tristan Lebleu on May 25, 2018

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